Many people know about the Mary Rose, one of Henry VIII’s most famous ships, but fewer are aware of Henry’s other nautical pride and joy – the even bigger and even better Henry Grace à Dieu, AKA the Great Harry.
The Great Harry was the first carrack launched from the Woolwich Dockyard (which was created in 1512 in order to work on the the young king’s new flagship) on 13 June 1514 and was one of the largest and most impressive vessels in any European navy during its time. Like the carracks being built by Spain and Portugal, she was an unmistakable signal to the world that England’s bold and hot-blooded monarch intended to make a military name for himself n the high seas.
The Great Harry was huge. “She had a large forecastle four decks high, and a stern castle two decks high. She was 165 feet (50 m) long, weighing 1,000–1,500 tons and having a complement of 700–1,000 men … [and] she was one of the first vessels to feature gunports and had twenty of the new heavy bronze cannon, allowing for a broadside.”
Unfortunately, like many of Henry VIII’s ambitious plans, the Great Harry had her share of problems. She was a little too big for her breeches and top heavy as well. As such, she never saw much in the way of battle. The king used her mainly as a diplomatic show-pony to transport the royal retinue in a manner worthy of a sovereign and his court.
No one knows what ultimately became of Great Harry, but there are still some replicas of other carracks – like the Nao Victoria in Spain – to give you some idea of the majesty those ships conveyed to onlookers.